Visiting a career counselor is an important step that can help you better understand what your calling may be and how to live it out to the fullest. Below we present strategies for how to choose a career counselor that is best for you. There are a number of different titles of professionals who provide career counseling (e.g., coach, consultant, counselor); here we discuss career counselors specifically. These are professionals who have at least a master’s degree and, are certified, meaning they received a degree from an accredited program and have passed a national licensing exam similar the bar exam for lawyers. These strategies for choosing a counselor come primarily from two sources: the guidelines for choosing a counselor published by the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and the suggestions made by Richard Bolles in his book What Color is Your Parachute?
What makes a good career counselor?
This is not a simple question answer. In What Color is Your Parachute?, Bolles divides counselors into three types: (1) the honest ones who know what they are doing, (2) the honest ones who don’t know what they are doing, and (3) the dishonest ones who don’t know what they are doing and only want your money. Obviously, when you spot the third type (which should be pretty easy), head for the exits. But how do you make sure you don’t end up with the second type? The first step is using you social network to find names of good counselors, arranging for an initial meeting, and then doing your own assessment. As Bolles points out, some big red flags would be if the counselor guarantees success (an impossibility in a world in which not everyone is perfect), if the counselor only talks about outcomes experienced by her or his “best” clients, or if the counselor tries to sell you on an exorbitant payment plan for services. It also is important to look for the less obvious, but often equally important facets of a good career counselor. What kind of training does my counselor have? Is my counselor collaborative and a good listener, or does she or he just tell me what to do? Is my counselor interested in hearing about my specific life circumstances, or am I simply being fed some preplanned program on me? Is my counselor warm, supportive, and empathic? Will my counselor help me set and achieve goals? As a consumer, you have a right to receive quality services from a career counselor, and asking these types of questions in an initial meeting is important. For a complete list of your rights as a consumer of career counseling, please visit the NCDA’s guide.
Why are you seeking career counseling?
There are numerous answers to this question, and the NCDA lists six predominant reasons:
- To learn more about yourself
- To gain educational and occupational information
- To learn more about decision-making and career planning
- To conduct a job search
- To apply to graduate or professional schools or apply for another training program
- To cope with career challenges and transition issues
Answering this question will help you identify the best counselor for you. Specifically, we recommend that upon your first visit to a counselor, you voice your primary reasons for getting help and ask the counselor to describe the expertise and experience she or he has in these areas.
What makes for good career counseling?
After you have conducted your initial evaluation and chosen a good career counselor, it is important to make sure that you receive quality services that best fit the reasons you sought out counseling. NCDA has an exhaustive list of the strategies and services that a well-trained career counselor should be able to provide to clients, and this list gives you a sense of what you, the consumer, have a right to expect. A good counselor should be able to:
- Create a supportive counseling environment that helps you feel determined and motivated
- Administer assessments of skills, interests, personality, and values if you need them
- Actively explore with you where you career difficulties are coming from
- Help you build solid decision making skills that fit with your personality
- Help you use computer-based and internet resources to help with your career planning and job search process
- Work with you to develop short- and long-term career plans
- Help you learn job search strategies and skills
- Provide empathic support for career-related stressors
- Refer you to other professionals if she or he cannot provide the services you need
These skills are essential for clients to make progress on their career-related difficulties. In particular, research has found that counselors who are supportive and empathic, who ttend to the specific needs of clients, and who set short- and long-term goals tend to have the most satisfied and successful clients. It is important to know that career counseling will not work perfectly for everyone, and that success should be judged not only on landing a job, but on the extent to which the process helps you gain insight about yourself that can be used to inform your career decisions. This type of insight is especially important for people trying to discern their calling and identify opportunities that can help them live it out.